River Rescue Awards collage of images

Captain Mushen and Firefighters Stivers, Rierson, and Labender recognized for courageous and life-saving actions during a river rescue

On November 5, 2021, at 3:30 p.m., VRFA units were dispatched to reports of a person who jumped off the R Street Bridge into the Stuck River near Ballard Park. Less than five minutes after dispatch, Battalion 331 had established command, Dive 333 was en route, and Engine 332 and Aid 332 had accessed Segale Road to begin a shore-based search. The patient was swept downstream and out of sight, according to a witness. The river flow was high, at 1900 cubic feet per second, and the weather was miserably cold at 44 degrees.

Soon after arriving on the scene, Captain Jeremiah Mushen made a calculated risk versus benefit decision. He deployed Swiftwater Rescue Technician Steve Rierson in an inflatable kayak into the river to conduct a quick search. Soon after, Captain Mushen and Firefighter Vic Kave deployed a river raft to follow Rierson. Simultaneously, Engine 332 and Aid 332 units were leapfrogging each other, conducting a shore-based search on Segale Road. Firefighter Rierson spotted the patient holding onto a tree branch with only her head out of the water. The patient was in immediate, life-threatening danger of being swept away and was too hypothermic to perform self-rescue. Rierson reached the patient but needed assistance to shore due to the river’s swift current.

The Aid 332 crew recognized the dangers of this situation immediately. With proper personal protective equipment (PPE), Firefighter Rachael Labender jumped into the river to assist Rierson. Labender and Rierson carried the patient to shore to an awaiting Medic unit, who treated and transported the patient to Harborview Medical Center. Thanks to quick action by firefighters Rierson and Labender, the patient was reported out of the water 18 minutes after dispatch.

Before the patient rescue, Firefighter Stivers played a significant role in the response effort. Using his local knowledge and experience in his first-due area, he quickly accessed Segale Road. He also knew a “beach area” would be a good access point to locate the victim or firefighters. These time-saving measures led to a positive outcome for this high-risk, low-frequency event.

In recognition of their courageous decision-making and exceptional team performance in an imminent river rescue operation, Captain Jeremiah Mushen and Firefighter John Stivers are awarded the Medal of Merit. In recognition of their immediate and courageous efforts to save a life while risking their own, firefighters Steve Rierson and Rachel Labender are awarded the Medal of Valor.

The Medal of Merit is the third-highest personal decoration awarded by the VRFA to a public safety officer or other employees. It is presented for exceptionally meritorious service during combat operations or for sustained, exceptional performance of non-emergency duties that have a great responsibility and positively affect the delivery of services to citizens. Persons considered for this award must have exceeded the expected range for their responsibilities or position.

The Medal of Valor is the second-highest personal decoration awarded by the VRFA to a public safety officer. It is bestowed for conspicuous behavior in the performance of duty during combat operations while at significant risk to life or limb.